A Chance Discovery Overhead: The Memmelsdorf Genizah

From Our Holdings

In February 2002, workers renovating a house in Memmelsdorf, Lower Franconia, discovered a burlap sack when they opened up a section of the ceiling. It contained fragments of a prayer book, Jewish community regulations, personal letters, a notebook with writing exercises, a calendar, lottery tickets, and calling cards.

An Unusual Collection

This unusual collection of objects, which date from the period 1770–1830, had apparently been rolled up with great care by the house's former owner, slipped into the sack, and hidden in the timber frame. Additional papers and objects were gradually extracted from the clay filling of the frame, including shoes, four tobacco pouches, and a bag for phylacteries. The house had been owned by Jews from 1775 to 1939, and the discovery was evidently a genizah.

A Ritual Burial for Religious Objects

The word genizah (pl. genizot) literally means "safekeeping." It usually refers to a room in which timeworn writings and religious objects were stored because they bore the name of God and could therefore not be simply discarded. In the past, many rural congregations in southern Germany deposited such writings and objects in the attics of their synagogues.

A Rare Find in a Private House

Fully forgotten by the communities themselves, a large number have been discovered in former synagogues over the last thirty years. By contrast, genizot found in private homes are much rarer. Our find in Memmelsdorf, which contains both religious and non-religious objects, provides a fragmentary yet fascinating glimpse into the lives of the house's former inhabitants.

Title Memmelsdorf genizah
Collection Material Culture and Archive
Location and year of origin Memmelsdorf in Lower Franconia, 1770–1830
Medium Paper, ink, fabric, leather
Old documents and a shoe

Memmelsdorf genizah; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

Selected Objects (10) Material Culture Collection Show all

Material Culture Collection

Our objects from material culture recount Jewish life stories from Germany, attesting to athletic achievements, weddings, professional and military careers, but also disenfranchisement, persecution, and emigration.

Flag with the Star of David

In 1935, Martin Friedländer hung a blue and white flag from his window, making a confident statement against the racist Nuremberg Laws.

Frieda Neuber's Leather Pouch

Shortly before being deported to Theresienstadt, Frieder Neuber gave this leather pouch to her niece. The letters inside it document her desperate attempts to leave the country.

Memmelsdorf Genizah

In February 2002, workers renovating a house discovered a burlap sack filled with papers and personal items when they opened up a section of the ceiling. The house had been owned by Jews from 1775 to 1939.

Model of the Cargo Steamer Max

The Hamburg shipowner Arnold Bernstein received this model of his first ship in 1929 as a gift for his company's tenth anniversary. Eight years later, his career ended abruptly. He was detained and only managed to escape Germany at the last minute.

Max Haller's Collection of Medals

Max Haller fought in the First World War for the Imperial German Navy. When SA members threatened him during the April Boycott of 1933, he pointedly placed a velvet cushion with his military distinctions in the shop window.

Cardboard Key for the Korants’ Wedding

Margarete Apt and Georg Korant received an unusual gift for their wedding on 4 October 1903 in Breslau. The dark brown key is made of cardboard and can be opened.

Dr. Oscar Hirschberg's Office Signs

A total of seven office signs used by Dr. Oscar Hirschberg document both his career as a practicing physician and the political changes and antisemitic exclusion during the period of Nazi rule.

The Sommerfelds’ Thirty-One Keys

Thirty-one keys – that's all that remains of the luggage the Sommerfeld family took with them when they emigrated from Berlin. They only managed to leave for England at the very last minute – just before the Second World War broke out.

Challenge Trophy from the Oberspree Jewish Rowing Club

The member of the Oberspree Jewish rowing club who logged the most kilometers in the water over the course of a year was awarded a challenge trophy. Fred Eisenberg won the award three years in a row.

Stamping Hammer, Invented by Gustav Maletzki

This stamping hammer, made around 1930, is one of the patented inventions for which the apparel furrier earned several awards. In 1938, Gustav Maletzki was forced to escape Germany and brought the hammer to exile in Bolivia.

Selected Objects (10) Archive Show all

Archive

Browse selected archival holdings online from the eighteenth century through the post-war period. Personal and official documents speak to the life of a nineteenth-century journeyman, early modern merchant rights, desperate attempts to emigrate during Nazi rule, and much more.

Adoption contract Gloeden and Loevy

Even a Jewish-sounding name could be cause for discrimination. So the siblings Erich and Ursula Loevy chose to be adopted by Bernhard Gloeden, a grammar school teacher and family friend.

A desperate letter to their son in Sweden

"As long as we are still here, we will write to you every third day," wrote Paul and Sophie Berliner to their son, Gert, who was living in Stockholm, on 6 November 1941.

Martin Riesenburger’s Service Card

A provisional document from February 1953 certified that Martin Riesenburger was a rabbi responsible for pastoral care in East Berlin prisons.

Siegfried Leopold’s Get for His Wife Resi

According to Jewish law, a marriage is only annulled when a bill of divorce is drawn up and presented by the husband to his wife.

Index cards from the British Army

Thousands of German emigrants fought against Germany in the British Army during the Second World War. In case of capture, they had to change their names, as these index cards document.

Frieda Neuber's Leather Pouch

Shortly before being deported to Theresienstadt, Frieder Neuber gave this leather pouch to her niece. The letters inside it document her desperate attempts to leave the country.

Memmelsdorf Genizah

In February 2002, workers renovating a house discovered a burlap sack filled with papers and personal items when they opened up a section of the ceiling. The house had been owned by Jews from 1775 to 1939.

Red Cross Letter to Emmy Warschauer

After the outbreak of the Second World War, the aid organization’s message service gave emigrants a way to contact relatives in Germany. That’s how Emmy Warschauer received confirmation that her daughter was alive.

Letter of Protection for the Jews of Ichenhausen

Until the nineteenth century, the residence and trading rights of Jews in the German territories were defined in letters of protection (Schutzbriefe), which had to be purchased.

Journeyman’s Book Belonging to the Shoemaker Leopold Willstätter

Leopold Willstätter traveled around southwest Germany and France as a journeyman from 1836 to 1843. The journeyman's book with a precise description of him also served as a form of identification.